And finally... the billionaire's Guide to Beijing
Saturday 10 May 2008
A romantic stroll
Walking around Tiananmen Square by night is an eerie experience, but also incredibly romantic. To the north of the square lies the amazingly evocative Forbidden City. Expect to find yourself dwarfed by the scale of the buildings and courtyards – you might recognise the palace from Bertolucci's film, The Last Emperor.
The Imperial palace has largely been left alone since it was built in 1420. It's a magical experience, imagining days when you might have been summoned to see the Emperor, and all the ceremonies you would have had to go through. Courtyard after courtyard eventually lead to a wonderful garden. When you finally emerge at the north side of the palace, you are met by a hill made from the spoil of the moat. Climb to the top of that hill and sit by the pavilion, looking back across the city.
The real secret is to arrive at the gates of the Forbidden City just after 3pm, by which time most of the tourists have already left. If you come here at dusk, the pollution mixed with the mist makes it a most romantic place to be.
Forbidden City, Dongcheng district
Where to shop
I could spend a whole day weaving through Beijing Curio City, in the Chaoyang district. It sells anything and everything you'd ever need: smuggled goods from God-knows-where, designer clothes, bric-a-brac – you name it, they've got it. The vendors are relaxed, so you don't feel under great pressure to buy; in fact, there is an air of aloofness, so if you want to purchase something, you have to be forthcoming! The market's inside a completely bonkers, four-storey building, so it's easy to get lost –I'd urge anyone to set aside a good couple of hours for a visit.
Beijing Curio City, 21 Dongsanhuan Nanlu, Chaoyang district
The place to relax
The Summer Palace is a fabulous park surrounded by hills, water and evocative buildings. On the northern side there is an artificial lake with willows hanging all around. When it freezes over in winter, it's perfect for ice skating. A few miles further out of the city is Fragrant Hills Park, where in the autumn you will see glorious leaves, foliage and maples, creating a maze of autumnal reds, oranges and deep purples. In this park there's an avant-garde hotel, designed by the architect IM Pei, who came up with the glass pyramids at the Louvre. It's rather dilapidated now, but is still a wonderful spot for tea.
Summer Palace and Fragrant Hills Park, both Haidian district
The Temple of Heaven is the most perfect building you could imagine, with extraordinary Ming dynasty architecture. If you walk around the popular 273-hectare surrounding gardens, watch out for the magical wave-movement of the lip of the temple's tiled roof. It really is a beautiful scene to behold.
The Temple of Heaven Park is 2km south of Tiananmen Square, in the city's Chongwen district
A room with a view
I hate to sound like a shameless self-publicist but my own place, the China Club, near the Forbidden City, is one of the very few hotels left in Beijing that is still authentically Chinese in style and feeling. A former royal palace built in the 16th century, with traditional architecture and courtyard houses, its character has been carefully preserved, making it a rare treat to stay. Or you can just enjoy a drink at the bar, which has a library holding some 5,000 books.
China Club, 51 Xi Rong Xian Lane, Xi Dan, www.thechinaclubbeijing.com
Let's meet for a drink
If you don't fancy the bar at the China Club, another fabulous spot for evening cocktails is the Lan Club, the bar of which was designed by Philippe Starck. Not only is it fabulous in décor, but it is right in the middle of the city so it makes for a stylish and convenient place to unwind after a busy day of shopping and sightseeing.
Lan Club, 4/F Twintowers, B-12 Jianguomenwai Avenue, Chaoyang district. Tel: 00 8610 5109 6012
My top table
The place to eat in Beijing has to be the Green T House – there's a real sense of drama to the meals here. From the façade of the building, you wouldn't imagine what was lurking inside, but once you've made your way through the nondescript suburban streets leading to the restaurant, you will find the most amazingly modern building, with white pebbles everywhere – it looks like something from Star Wars. The food is Asian fusion but very dramatic, unlike anything you will have seen before. I'd recommend the pear, walnut and cheese salad, which comes served in a miniature tree! The décor is fabulous, too; the owner commissions exquisite one-off pieces of furniture.
Green T House, 318 Cuige Zhuang Xiang Hege Zhuang Cun, Chaoyang district. Tel: 00 8610 6552 8310
How to arrive in style
The wonderful new Terminal 3 designed by Sir Norman Foster at Beijing Capital International Airport is one of the most important building projects to open ahead of the Olympic Games. Four years in construction and a million square metres in size, it is simply tremendous, and makes flying into the city a newly pleasurable experience.
Beijing Capital International Airport is situated north-east of Beijing and can be reached by taxi, train or bus
Getting around town
Finding your way around Beijing is highly problematic, so personally I usually opt for a luxury minivan with a DVD player. The main thing is: never walk long distances – either you will die from choking or you will get caught in a web of flyovers and main roads. Taxis are available but very few drivers speak English, so there is every chance that you'll end up in the wrong place. My tip is to make sure you have a precise itinerary, and find someone who can explain to your driver in Chinese where you want to go. Taxis cost 2 yuan (15p) per kilometre, with a minimum fare of 10 yuan, but avoid taxi drivers stationed near metro stations as they are more likely to rip you off.
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